A Hundred Seas Rising

I recently worked on the sound design for this installation by artist Suki Chan for Aspex.

Inspired by Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, A Hundred Seas Rising explores how literature might be implicated in the imagination and trajectories of revolutions. The installation will use the sound of 100 individual voices as a sculptural material, re-imagining Dickens’ revolutionary mob sonically by creating surges of ideological thought that reverberate across the gallery space.

In the summer of 1957, the Hundred Flowers Movement in China invited a variety of views and solutions to national policy issues. The name of the movement originated from a poem: “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” This movement was the first of its kind in the history of the People’s Republic of China in which the government opened up to ideological criticisms from the general public. The campaign grew in momentum, from expressions of minor issues of a few to increasingly large numbers of intellectuals voicing their radical ideas, including the overthrowing of the government. Six weeks into the campaign, threatened by the overwhelming criticisms of the people, Mao Tse-tung ordered a halt to the campaign. The result of the Hundred Flowers campaign was the Anti-Rightist Movement in which ideas against the government were suppressed, leading to the loss of individual rights and persecution.

The public will be invited to participate in the imagination of modern day revolutions. These might be personal, social, cultural, philosophical, technological, as well as political revolutions. They will be encouraged to describe the cause or structure they would like to transform, the motivating ideology for this change – including books that might have inspired their ideas, how they would mobilise others, the objectives of the revolution and how this would be achieved, i.e. through peaceful or violent means. The voice of each individual will be recorded individually and each recording will be assigned to one of the school desks, arranged in rows like a classroom environment. It is intended that the voices represent a cross-section of views from different cultural and social backgrounds. The topics for discussion might range from small personal revolutions that perhaps improves the daily life of one person, to ambitious ideas attempting to solve recurrent social ills, such as housing, distribution of money, debt, social welfare, education, the prison system, etc.

The sound design of the installation was based around the concept that a visitor could choose to listen to an individual desk and closely follow that interviewee’s ideas about revolution, but also that the sound of the whole room, all one hundred desks, would create the auditory illusion of waves of sound moving through the gallery space. Some rippling and some crashing. Others threatening to sweep the visitor away with this sonic revolutionary mob. At other times an individual voice would take advantage of a brief silence to speak out, only moments later to be overwhelmed by the ninety-nine others all wanting their say on the matter.

Needless to say converting the concept to a reality required a lot of editing, as well as overcoming some daunting technical hurdles. Apple’s Logic Pro software was used for editing and playback. In order to achieve the technical requirements of one hundred separate audio channel outputs three Apple Mac Mini computers using M-Audio Profire Lightbridge soundcards were networked and synchronised via MTC. The computers with their associated ADAT converters and amplifiers were placed in a storage room close to the gallery space and cabling was then laid to each of the hundred desks. More than two kilometres of speaker cabling was required.

All the audio from the interviews was pre-processed by Ivan Williams, a student on loan to us from University of Portsmouth, so as to be of an equally perceived loudness, after which began the task of editing the audio into sections that could later be spaced out as necessary without disrupting the flow of the interviewee’s discourse.

These “paragraphs” of revolutionary thought were then carefully placed onto the timeline in Logic and synchronised so as to allow for the creation of “waves” of sound as each of them began talking. By placing a small delay between groups of desks we could change the speed that the “wave” moved across the gallery space. We could also create additional “swell” by using volume automation in varying degrees in order to control the size and shape of the “waves”.

The installation will be at Aspex in Portsmouth until 2nd September, after which it will be touring in Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight. More information can be found at the websites of Suki Chan and Aspex.

Photos copyright © 2012 Suki Chan. All rights reserved. Used by permission.